Recently, I met an engaging and bright woman at a party. She was my age, exactly.
We talked about how hard it was to turn 40, and we talked about our kids and Kindergarten and the fact that boys generally mature later than girls and eventually she shifted the conversation to work. And to me, specifically.
I told her the short version of my marketing turned mother turned Pilates instructor story. She seemed intrigued.
The details of "What do you do?" turned into "What do you want to do?"
I went on about career limitations in Sacramento. I gave her the same speech I'll give anyone who will listen: "Marketing jobs almost never come up in Sacramento and even if they did, I'm not sure how I'd handle the logistics of my son's out-of-the-way (but amazingly great) school. I'll probably teach Pilates for the next 11 years, and then figure it all out."
"Why 11 years?" she asked.
"Because Ben will graduate high school by then and we'll pack him off to whatever school gives him the best scholarship (I can hope, right?)."
She pressed on (I'm telling you, she was engaging!): "That's a long time - 11 years - but, what would you do then?"
I replied, "Sell shoes at Nordstrom, get my Nursing degree, teach more Pilates...who knows?"
"Well," she continued, "what were you doing 11 years ago?"
"Wow, she's good - no pregnant pauses in this conversation," I thought to myself.
And then I was the one who paused.
Eleven years ago? How do I even begin to tell her what was happening at age 29?
How I had just landed a highly visible and very coveted position at Visa and how my team there was charged with rolling out the Visa Check Card and how we had the most cache in all of Visa as the ambassadors for this fine new product that would hit the banking market with a frenzy and how the team manager would work me to the bone and how I'd make my way to the women's restroom at least once a day to cry my eyes out and how I'd never sleep because I'd be thinking of all the things that could go wrong with the damn card and how I'd fly to Chicago every few weeks and meet our agency there and how the Travel Department always booked me into the Monaco but one time reserved The House of Blues and how lucky I felt to have such a prestigious job but how I knew that if I stayed, I'd be popping Prozac by 30 and how I walked in and quit one day without another job lined up and how I didn't want to bail out but how was there another choice?
Or how, with all the physical risks I was taking, I was on the fast track to a major injury and how it felt when, flying down a ridiculous steep hill on my roller blades, in the remote hills, I snapped my pelvis - twice - and had to walk six miles to my car and how I drove myself to the ER and how the doctor was stunned by the severity of the fractures and how my mother, upon hearing the news, asked: "Can you still have children?" and how my dad had to drive to the Bay Area, pick me up, and keep me for two months - on his couch - while my bones healed and how I had all this downtime to seriously scrutinize my values and how I was not happy with myself at all.
How life in the "dot com era" was changing me and how everything was about money and how everyone was about money and how my friends were all "rich on paper" and how the outings were unbelievable and how materialism was affecting me and how I was going through a new car every two years and how I wildly spent everything I made on new suits and new make-up and therapy and how I went to the Canadian Rockies with thirty of my friends and how we all spent crazy amounts of money on food, wine and spa treatments and how I didn't like the person I was becoming and how I knew I needed a major change and how very scared I was of leaving the Bay Area and how I was even more afraid to stay.
And how, at 29 going on 30, I knew that life was going to be different, how it had to be different, how the move to Sacramento was oh-so-lonely but how I felt calmer and how the people I met here were down-to-earth and accepting and how my circle of friends would slowly grow and how the consulting work I was doing would become stifling and how my world would be altered forever with marriage and motherhood in just a couple of short years and how quickly my life in the Bay Area was forgotten and how blessed I was to close one chapter and open several more.
In response to this woman's probing question, I took the easy way out: "Oh, you know, at 29, I was working and having fun. 40 always seemed like a long ways away."
The woman looked at me intently - and with marked curiosity - and then we were interrupted by our children again. And in a way, I was relieved.
It's not that I don't appreciate the experiences that I had in my late 20s and 30s; on the contrary, I believe that the opportunities I had, especially professionally, were nothing short of amazing. I can remember being in many business settings, literally reminding myself that yes, indeed, important people wanted my opinion.
But things have changed so much.
Now, when I think of my career, I think of Ben first. That's why it's so easy for me to imagine myself teaching Pilates for another 3, 5, 11 years.
And when I carefully look at myself today, I see someone who wants to grow, someone who wants a healthy and fulfilling life that is rich in relationships and not necessary in wealth, someone who will make every concession possible to eek out just a few more minutes each day with her son, even if it means that there won't be a corner office, spendy client lunches or a stay at The House of Blues.
Although my convictions are strong on this, it's not always a comfortable topic for me to discuss freely.
So, naturally, after the kids were attended to at the party, I shifted my attention back to the woman and intentionally turned the tables.
"Enough about me," I started. "What do you do?"
"Oh, I'm a therapist," she replied.
Of course. Because no one is that interested in a perfect stranger at a party. And no, I did not save myself hundreds of dollars by monopolizing her time with tales of my divorce, parenting and dating.
But I was tempted.